A movie moment for Mark Zuckerberg

When it came time for me to do my movie news dump late Friday night, I somehow managed to forget the news item from the middle of the week that Facebook founder and reluctant movie character Mark Zuckerberg had been named Time Magazine‘s Person of the Year. It’s an oversight I can’t bring myself to ignore completely.

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Looking at past selectees, 26 year-old billionaire Zuckerberg is hardly the only one to have a movie made about his exploits. In terms of sheer footage, he’s got nothing on such occasional film lead figures and frequent supporting players as Nelson Mandela, John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Mohandas Gandhi and, most frequent of all, Adolf Hitler.

What is unique about Zuckerberg is that “The Social Network” came out the same year as his selection and, in a peculiar way, probably helped him to get it. Reading the Time article about Zuckerberg by geek journalist and fantasy novelist Lev Grossman, I can only marvel at some very shrewd PR work by someone. The article goes out of its way to present a highly sympathetic alternative from the “angry-robot” of the movie to a figure more akin to the stiff but kindly Tin Woodman. If writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher portrayed Zuckerberg as a bit like the treacherous Ash from “Alien,” Grossman turns him into the quirky but lovable Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The words “Eduardo Saverin” and the legal troubles portrayed in the film are never mentioned in the online version of the article that I read.

I strongly suspect Zuckerberg’s knowledge of movie history doesn’t extend much further back than “Alien.” However, even with all the image rebuffing a billionaire’s money and power affords him, I’m sure he’d prefer the old days of movie biopics where, if powerful celebrities were portrayed at all, they were portrayed positively. Not only were possibly imaginary warts not added, as they might have been by Sorkin and Fincher, very real ones were actively removed.

I’ve never seen it, but check out the trailer below for Billy Wilder’s 1957 biopic about perhaps the most ironically similar Time Person of the Year (back when it was “Man of the Year”) to Zuckerberg, aviation pioneer Charles A. Lindbergh. As the L.A. Times reminds us, Lindbergh was also the first person chosen and the only one younger than the Facebook fonder. What Zuckerberg feels he is doing to bring people together virtually, Lindbergh was instrumental in doing physically by demonstrating that a nonstop flight from New York to Paris was possible. At this point in history at least, in some ways Lindbergh’s achievement still dwarfs Zuckerberg’s. That may change fairly soon, but there’s no doubt what Lindbergh did commanded a huge personal risk and, eventually, a personal price with the most infamous kidnapping and murder case in American history.

Ironically, while it might said that the Jewish American Sorkin went hammer and tong against the Jewish Zuckerberg, Billy Wilder by all accounts went easy on the famous flyer when, under the circumstances, it would be entirely understandable for Wilder to despise Lindbergh. Working thirty years after the famous flight of “Lucky Lindy,” Wilder was able to completely ignore Lindbergh’s highly controversial early opposition to World War II and qualified support for Hitler as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, his antisemitism, white supremacist beliefs (though hardly unusual at the time), and links to the more openly Jew-hating Henry Ford. Wilder you see, was not just a liberal Jew who advocated for U.S. involvement in the war, but an actual escapee from Hitler’s Europe whose immediate family perished at Auschwitz.

If there was any revenge by Wilder at all, star James Stewart was nearly 50 when the movie was released, double the age Lindbergh was when he came to fame. Jessie Eisenberg might be, unusually for the movies, smaller and less physically fit looking than the real-life Zuckerberg, but at least he’s still only 27.

  

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Speaking of remakes and originals….

I’m not sure if this is often done, but as a fan of Brandon “The Reenactment Kid” Hardesty and in light of Steven Spielberg’s planned remake of “Harvey,” I thought it would be fun to place one of his recreations back to back with an original scene.

Here we see young Hardesty beating Spielberg to the punch and doing his own version of a key scene from the first movie version of Mary Chase’s sweet-natured comedy. (Especially if you’ve never seen the original, you may want to reverse the order of these clips for yourself. I keep changing my mind about which I should place first.)

And now the original. (Note: This clip is on the long side. The part that young Mr. Hardesty recreates starts at about 2:29, but you may want to watch all of it, because Stewart is kind of great.)

  

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More remakes

* The word has arrived of Steven Spielberg‘s new project, it’s a remake of a particular favorite of mine, Mary Chase’s terrific play “Harvey,” best known for the solid 1950 film version starring Jimmy Stewart in one of his best roles. (He reprised the part for TV in 1972.) Nikki Finke mentions Tom Hanks‘ name for the plum lead role of Elwood P. Dowd, a grown man who believes his best buddy and constant companion is an invisible 6’6″ rabbit. I’ve also seen Will Smith‘s name floated for it (he’s maybe a bit young for the part, still), but any number of actors could take this one on in fine fashion. It’s also possible Hanks might be a bit leery about stepping into a role so closely associated with the actor he’s most often compared to, but therein may lie the challenge, too. Jeffrey Wells inveighs against the project, in the usual terms. I think it’s fine, as long as Spielberg and writer Jonathon Tropper bring something new and worthwhile of their own to this version.

One interesting aspect here is the way that our present age is in some respects more puritanical than America in 1950, particularly as it relates to drinking. Most modern viewers would likely regard Elwood Dowd as an alcoholic today. (In the old days, I remember that TV Guide referred to him as a “gentle tippler.”) Will Spielberg and Tropper try to send Elwood to rehab? I say, no, no, no. Also, I sure hope Wells is wrong about the CGI Harvey. That would pretty much eliminate the whole point of the tale. This is not “Roger Rabbit.”

* I’m a bit late on this, but the planned remake of the Michael Curtiz-directed Errol Flynn swashbuckler — or, to be more kind, the new adaptation of the 1922 Rafael Sabatini novel of derring-do on the high seas — should really be called “Captain Blood in Outer Space” now. By the way, the 1935 “Captain Blood” was actually the second version of the tale to be made in Hollywood. Damn remakes.

* One way to avoid the whole “remakes bad” thing is to use a movie that hardly anyone in your target audience has seen. The French spy thriller, “Anthony Zimmer,” may be available through Netflix, but it there are only three reviews posted of the 2005 film on Rotten Tomatoes, which means it likely only showed in the U.S. at festivals and the like. When the new version, renamed “The Tourist,” comes out with Charlize Theron and Sam Worthington, will anyone remember “Zimmer”?

* Anne Thompson has some thoughts on the general timidity of Hollywood. She’s not wrong, particularly when it comes to the endless recycling of once-hot properties, but — at the risk of repeating myself — I really do think that most of the complaining is off-base to the extent that there’s really nothing new under the sun and that even “Hamlet” and “Romeo and Juliet” were essentially remakes the very first time they ever appeared on an Elizabethan stage. When remakes are good (say, “3:10 to Yuma“) no one complains, though too many forget the original. When remakes are bad (“The Wicker Man“, which was worse than bad, actually), well, the fault is not in the idea of remakes but in what the filmmaker decided to do with the material.

  

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It doesn’t seem right…

…to let Independence Day weekend go without any mention of John Wayne, especially so close to the 30th anniversary of his death in 1979. So here’s a trailer for Don Siegel’s 1976 film of “The Shootist,” probably the most fitting final film any screen icon ever got.

Directed by one of mid-century Hollywood’s greatest action directors, and with an astonishing supporting cast that includes two equally iconic classic era greats, a young man who’d become one of the dominant players in modern Hollywood, and some wonderful character actors from past western classics, “The Shootist” had a brutality and frankness that classic-ear Hollywood would never have tolerated, but really does feel something the final true classic-style Hollywood western.

People still wonder about just how westerns went from being the dominant genre to an occasional change of pace. (Innumerable dull TV westerns didn’t help; I know I avoided westerns for years because of them.) In any case, it seems that when Duke’s real-life lung cancer finally got him three years later, he kind of took westerns with him. Seems fitting.

Here’s a tribute from last June by Roger Ebert.

  

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A 7/4 cinema civics lesson

Courtesy of Jean Arthur from “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

Also, I forgot to mention it yesterday in my post about it, but “1776,” the wonderful, if flawed, and still oddly controversial musical about the writing of the Declaration of Independence, is showing tonight (10:15 est/7:15 pst) on TCM. There are worse fireworks alternatives.

  

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